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    The Twins by Nancy Calder, 2018-2019 Winner of Grand Prize in the Representational Professional category.

    You are the artist. You hope to create a great painting. Perhaps you're painting directly from life, but your observed view shows objects in a visually confusing way or contains optical illusions that are sure to be confusing if faithfully reproduced in a painting. No amount of rationalizing will fix it: "Well, that is exactly what I saw." Maybe it doesn't matter, but if you care about pleasing someone else with your work (or hope to sell your paintings)—it does matter. Creating something intriguing or attractive to others should be the goal. I tend to believe that "if a tree falls in the forest," you only imagined the sound unless there's someone else there to share and confirm your experience. Just my own subjective view, but I hope someone will look at my artwork and go, "Wow, that just gave me an experience I never dreamed of before!" Or better yet, they say: "I have to OWN that painting so I can continue to have that experience all the time."

    Here are 5 helpful composition tips, and they mostly apply to realistic or representational paintings—but not always! There are many examples that break the rules successfully — but few artists can really accomplish that consistently without years of practice and experience. Beginners should at least learn about these guidelines to avoid discouragement early in the game.

    1. Vary it up: take care not to repeat the same elements, like equal-size shapes at the same level (depth). Think of the principle, "no two shapes the same." Try to design with unequal areas, including the so-called "negative" shapes. Here is a great quote from Sir Joshua Reynolds, a renowned 18th century painter:
    “Two distinct, equal lights, should never appear in the same picture : One should be principal, and the rest subordinate, both in dimension and degree: Unequal parts and gradations lead the attention easily from part to part, while parts of equal appearance hold it awkwardly suspended.”

    2. Avoid uncomfortable touching of shapes (also referred to as tangents). The excuse, "that is how it actually looked," falls short if it creates an uneasy tension in the viewer. Touching objects also potentially limits the sense of depth and focus the painting could otherwise have. Either modify the way objects meet, or move to a view where objects overlap.

    3. Observe the “Rule of Thirds." This rule is really just a guideline, but it may significantly help to create balance in a painting. The rule of thirds is especially helpful for painting landscapes that are horizontal or vertical. Square canvases can be a bit more challenging. Try the following:

    a. Divide your page horizontally and vertically with two lightly drawn vertical lines and two lightly drawn horizontal lines, equally spaced, somewhat resembling a tic-tac-toe board.
    b. For landscapes, try your placement of the horizon line on the top third or the bottom third line.
    c. Place the areas of emphasis or focus on the intersections between the lines. As you'll see, the "rule of thirds" also allows for easy "breathing space" or open space that helps to balance the scene. One may imagine a dramatic composition where the sky occupies the top two thirds of the painting.

    4. Avoid cutting off or distracting your composition with a strong diagonal line that leads right into the corner of the canvas. Also, when a strong shape completely covers any corner of the artwork, is has the potential to visually isolate that corner from the rest of the painting. I see this problem all the time, especially in the Novice category. Everything else is nicely done—good use of color, careful rendering, etc, and then there's that strong line or shape that dominates the corner! Ugh. Try to place diagonal lines or shapes away from the canvas corner.

    5. Now, for the total confusion: a successful composition also requires UNITY and ultimately, "harmony." In fact, it's the harmony that creates the unity! How? By using SIMILAR elements or effects throughout the painting:

    Color scheme (my favorite)

    Ultimately, an artwork must contain a balance between both unity and variety to be successful. Too much harmony may lack emphasis and interest; too much variety loses focus and may seem incomprehensible. Take a good look at the Best in Show and Finalist winners at PaintingContest.Org and you'll be able to study examples of these principles at work in the winning paintings, on exhibit each month.

    In future writings, we'll demonstrate specific examples of the principles discussed. Thanks for reading!

    Article written by Victoria Oldham, co-publisher, Gateway International Painting Competition. Victoria majored in fine art and graphic design at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, followed by a 35-year career as artist/prototype designer in the fine gift industry.

    Shown above: Example with excellent composition, Frost by Deborah Tilby, oil, 16"w X 20"h, winner Best in Show, Representational Professional, November 2019.



    This week, someone who had just learned about our painting competition called with skeptical questions, wondering if it was worth entering. It occurred to us that few artist know this is our FIFTH YEAR producing and managing this opportunity. We were first called the "Gateway to Sedona Painting Competition." Then we were "The Sedona Art Prize." Finally, we settled on "The Gateway International Painting Competition," but more than not we just refer to it as "PaintingContest.Org." This time period spans 2014 to the present.

    "Study art experts: take workshops. Watch how-to videos. Read art books. Visit art galleries. Join an art club. Subscribe to an art magazine. Look up art sites on the Internet. Take a life drawing class. Copy an old master work for study. Explore art movements in history. Read biographies of other artists." — Read more from Oil Painting for Dummies.

    The Twins by Nancy Calder, 2018-2019 Winner of Grand Prize in the Representational Professional category.

    We've completed our 4th year producing this amazing painting contest—amazing because of the quality of the painting entries and the caliber of artists entering. The Grand Prizes ($1,000.00 1ST PRIZE, $250.00 2ND PRIZE) have now been awarded and sent to the winners, thanks to annual judges Kathy Duley and Linda Corderman. Please see the winners and scroll below to see all the contenders (Finalists and Best in Show winners) from the entire 2018-2019 annual competition.

    Professional artist Brian LaSaga expressed his shock and total surprise at winning the First Grand Prize ($1,000.00 cash USD) for his painting "Hillside Relic" entered in the 2017-18 Gateway International Painting Competition. Upon hearing the news, Brian wrote: "Winning the grand prize was totally unexpected on my part simply because there is so much great talent out there. Over the years I've observed that high realism didn't get much attention in art competitions. I'm very happy to see that I was wrong. Thank you Victoria and Tim and of course the final judge Kathy Duley for selecting my work over many other such great pieces."


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